Children burst into this world built to learn through their biological drive to play.” (Johnson and Dinger, 2012, p. 26)
Research continues to confirm that play, during the early years of 0-5, has its positive benefits on children’s emotional, social, physical, and cognitive development. Then, why is it, that early childhood programs and educators continue to buckle under the pressure of pushing academic-based curriculums as selling points to entice parents to enroll their children in their programs?
I believe the untrained eye may not be able to see the value in children attending early childhood programs that facilitate children’s development through engaging, multi-sensory, hands-on, play-based environments because schools and curriculum retailers have sent faulty messages, through marketing, that parents and educators need academic-based programs so that children don’t “fall behind”. Wait a minute; let’s analyze the concept of “falling behind”. Did you know there is no research linking early readers, or high academic achieving preschoolers, to becoming more successful adults at life than their slower achieving peers? That is important information to consider.
Research supporting a play-based approach to early childhood education dates back several hundred years ago and continues to be supported by current research. “Back in 1762, Rousseau published his novel Emile, or On Education, in which he urged a new approach to education that was based on play and respect for childhood.” (Johnson and Dinger, 2012, p. 28)
In addition, “Research from the 1970’s in Germany showed that by grade four, children who attended play-oriented Kindergarten surpassed children who attended academic-oriented Kindergarten in physical, social, emotional, and cognitive development. The findings were so compelling that after a period of switching to a more academic approach, Germany converted all of its Kindergartens to play-based programs.” (Early Childhood Learning Division, Department of Education, 2011, p.30)
So, I ask you, do you dare to listen to the research, and to shut-out the deceiving marketing tactics, and trust that your children are actually participating in valuable learning when at play making mud-pies with his/her peers, or creating a volcano for his/her T-Rex to perch upon, or covering his/her hands with finger-paint resulting in a brown blob of paint across his/her canvas?
If you do, then look for the following characteristics and practices when searching for a play-based program for your children:
“⦁ is supported by brain development research
⦁ nurtures the individual child
⦁ sees everything as a learning opportunity
⦁ is based on children’s needs, likes, and interests
⦁ supports children’s autonomy
⦁ focuses on children’s play” (Johnson and Dinger, 2012, p. 29)
All play-based programs look different and there is no rigid definition of what it has to look like. So, look closely for these general characteristics and practices along with a purposefully arranged play environment and you will quickly be able to see which programs are truly play-based and which ones may just allow for chunks of open play time throughout the daily schedule.
I once read that if you give children what they need at 2 and 3 years old, and then follow-up with giving them what they need at 4 and 5 years old, then they will be ready for what they need at 6, 7, or 8 years old. Children do not need to be prepared for ages 6, 7, or 8 when they are 2, 3, 4, or 5 years of age.
So, do you dare to let your children learn through play?
Erin Hendrix is a mother of 3 children who has 15+ years in education. She is an education consultant with Hendrix Consulting, a literacy advocate through Story Time With Amber And Erin on YouTube, and a play-based educator at an early childhood program in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Let Them Play – An Early Learning (Un) Curriculum by Jeff Johnson and Denita Dinger, 2012